Interview #39 – Big Law Expectations, small law money

I was excited when I got a call back for an interview at this one. It wasn’t a BigLaw name I recognized, but the sheer number of attorneys employed by the firm across many offices definitely implied I should have known who they were. 

I show up at a decent office in a mid-high rise. I was pretty quickly met by the managing partner who led me back to a small room buried a bit farther back in the offices. This was notably only because most interviews I’ve been on have almost always been in a regular conference room everyone in the office would normally use for depositions etc. You know which one I mean, the one with the big long table and bank of windows on one side. Instead of using that conference room which was immediately in front of the office, we wandered back into a slightly-larger-than-a-closet room with a table.  

The office felt slightly empty, like someone had either moved a bunch of furniture around recently or they had only recently moved in. There was art (office art.. again, you know the type. Slightly better than hotel paintings and usually with some sort of theme picked from a hat.) on the walls so it didn’t feel quite like they had just moved in, more like they just never finished unpacking, for years. 

Anyway, the managing partner was a nice guy and we had a pretty pleasant interview. At one point he disappeared and came back with another partner. Still pretty good interview, nothing really changed. It was effectively commercial insurance defense. At a certain point, I brought up the question of compensation — largely because they are a huge law firm and yet I had seen vague statements online (glassdoor) implying that although they were a huge firm they did not offer BigLaw money. But I had no solid numbers, just that they paid on the low end for a firm that size… which could mean anything. And here is where I knew something was wrong. 

The managing partner said “Oh, I’m the last person you’d want to talk to about that, I have no idea.” As in… he had no idea how much they were paying for the position. Which seemed odd… partners are usually very aware of where the money in the firm is going, but hey, maybe he didn’t manage everything and had wisely delegated some of his duties to others. I asked about benefits, because again, the job post had zero info listed, merely the ubiquitous and useless “competitive” tag for benefits. What their benefits are competing with is often a very good question to ask considering some I’ve seen… often it seems they compete in the benefits Special Olympics in many cases.

Again, he professed ignorance. Except of course he did remember that associates got 2 or 3 weeks of vacation (he was fuzzy on which). But he then went on to state that they may actually have “no set vacation plan” and that associates could take as much vacation as they wanted so long as they got their hours in. Which was set at an amazingly reasonable 2200 billable. The further problem with that very high number was that he also had no idea how work was given out to associates. He did recall the bonus structure, mostly I think because it was very low. Again, where I am currently had their bonus beat by several thousand. 

Think about that for a moment. The managing partner had no idea about how work was assigned to associate attorneys in his own office. Apparently partners just assigned shit to you if you were free… associates weren’t attached to a particular lit group, or a particular partner. You just had an open schedule and people would fill it for you. 

So… no idea of money. No idea about benefits. No idea about workload. But vague information online about how they were potentially offering less money than I was making now for significantly more work hours. 

At the end of the interview the managing partner said he wanted to have me come back for a social interview with more partners because he had only found the one other one in the office to come talk to me. (Wednesday afternoon and only one of a dozen partners were there?) I never really heard back from them. I don’t even think they rejected me… truly the managing partner may have mislaid my info and I’ll just get a call in a month asking me to come in. I think I’ll decline that one. 

Interview #38 – Missing Info

Lately I have been attempting to get out of where I am working with renewed effort. Short version is that my current job / company is a good springboard with a recognizable name, but the office I work at is horribly mismanaged and the company itself is penurious to the point of absurdity. I tell most people I am lucky they supply pens (and in truth it is almost that bad). 

Anyway, I applied to a position listed for civil litigation with ‘the state’. Nice amazing sounding position working for the County DA’s office. Salaried but straight bankers hours, any OT is flexed over to whenever you want to take it back. The position pretty simply said it was for a civil litigator with very generic background requirements but nothing specific as to what one would be litigating. There is a pretty large basket that encompasses ‘civil’ and I have a pretty significant background in a whole bunch of it so I figured I would give it a shot. Usually getting these positions require an inside track but I tossed out a resume because you never know. 

And it turns out it paid off. I got in for an interview pretty quickly and sat down with several people who had been at the office for well over a decade. Positions didn’t open up often there, the job situation was great and apparently most people only left the job when they retired, died, or moved cities. 

The interview was going great. I had worked in a County Civil dept before so I was aware of most of what they did and what would be expected. The fateful moment came when they asked why I was attempting to leave my current job. I told them I was trying to get out of Personal Injury work. 

At which point the DA said, that’s too bad… we were trying to hire you to do Personal Injury defense for car accident cases for us. 

The job description had never mentioned this. Anywhere. I had a print out in my interview folio; I almost wanted to pull it out mid-interview at that point just to verify I wasn’t crazy. I tried to save the interview from the flaming death spiral the it had just become, but the damage really was done. Even though they had literally said ‘we are looking for someone exactly like you’… it was apparently not me; it was I guess someone exactly like me who wanted to do more personal injury cases. 

I’m guessing they hired someone exactly like me, only different. 

Interview #37- the sinking ship (another MLM style firm?)

So I showed up to the headhunter obtained interview. They made a big deal about the firm having a maritime background, which is why I was going to be a perfect fit. The office was decently high up a mid-to-high skyscraper.  It occupied half of the whole floor, so I figured it must be decently solvent. The firm itself had few offices in a couple states so it wasn’t small either.

Upon getting to the firm, I noted that the lobby was nicely furnished and I chatted up the receptionist for a few minutes. She had been there for years, so I felt there might actually be decent retention. I was ushered into a conference room with a long wooden table. The table had some big slabs of glass over it to protect it, but under the glass was so much dust and dirt, I actually didn’t really want to rest my arms on the top of the glass. I should elaborate slightly, the top of the glass was clean, but between the glass and the wood, was a layer of dust so thick it looked like someone had spread ash all over the table and then put glass on top of it. Odd, definitely, but not a dealbreaker.

I met with Frank, one of the senior attorneys. Frank was a nice guy and actually seemed to like the place. I think the firm may have been a decent place to work at one point. Frank talked a bit too reticently about the halcyon days when the firm had significantly more maritime work, and he stated it has mostly dried up and will continue in that vein for at a minimum, several more years. The firm, it seemed, used to be more of a niche firm and in recent years has had to branch out trying to find a new niche, and was apparently failing to make a real distinction for itself in the market.

When it came to the question of the salary, Frank almost seemed embarrassed / confused by his own firm’s compensation scheme. To give you the short version, he told me that starting in the new year they “weren’t going to have salaries anymore” and “you could work as much or as little as you wanted“. That tag line is almost universally used when someone is selling a scam. In fact, it is the exact wording people use when trying to sell a Multi-Level Marketing / Pyramid scheme. I’m pretty sure Frank knew he had said something wrong. I had been unconsciously (nervous energy… what can I say) moving my chair back and forth ever so slightly, and at his mention of the above I stopped instantly. I know my body language changed, it was a visceral change.

Their new compensation scheme that gets rid of salaries is, in Frank’s words: “you eat what you kill”; which is the same model used for plaintiff’s contingency work. The major difference is that the delta for the payoff on plaintiff’s work is significantly higher on most all cases than it is for hourly defense work. Which is why “contingency” style compensation doesn’t work for defense work. (sorry if this is boring for non-lawyers, but I think most attorneys will agree 100% with me on this one.) Since they haven’t implemented this yet, Frank didn’t know how it would work with new associates while they get acquainted with the firm and work, and there would also be what sounded like a fair amount of required “un-billed but credited time” which he was even more fuzzy on how associates would be compensated. Ridiculous compensation schemes aside, I was also told that if I was considering the equity track, I would have to be consistently billing out at 2500 hours.

My guess was someone at the top seems to have decided they wanted to start getting the type of money they used to when they were a successful niche firm, and the easiest way for them to get more money was by taking it from the people at the bottom.

So… no salary and an hourly (very likely unattainable) expectation over even most Biglaw norms.

Starting in the new year, every non-partner level attorney (and likely some partners) are going to be trying to find a new job. That firm is set to become even more of a revolving door of attorneys than it was currently.  From a legal recruiter’s standpoint, this place was win / win. You’d get new clients as everyone jumped ship, and also be able to keep selling the firm new blood to try to fill the ever-present gaps created by the inane compensation scheme (at least until the office closed down).

The final punchline of this interview was that after I told the recruiter this information, they said they had a “long history / relationship” with this firm. Which was odd considering the local office has all of about 10 attorneys in it. What long relationship can a headhunter have with such a small firm unless they are already a revolving door.

I’m still undecided as to whether this was just a crappy job thrown out by the headhunter, or a specific pick based upon my previous interaction with the other headhunter at the agency.

Headhunter interview

I got an interview from a headhunter. I hate headhunters, but this was a networking interview. Basically, someone who might actually be able to give me a good lead referred me to a good friend of theirs who is a headhunter. I expressed my distaste for headhunters, but this person pressed and said I had to go talk to their friend. Now it was a political thing… I had to go so I didn’t insult the person who I really wanted to look around for me.

So, I reached out. Now… I will also admit… the headhunter firm sounded distantly familiar, but I could not place why. I went looking through my email and prior application material and I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I started to believe it was just in my mind, or from seeing their postings online, or something.

So I show up and have a short informational interview with someone at the headhunter agency. It turned out the ‘friend’ was one of two founders of the agency and didn’t deal with people who weren’t partner level, so they handed my resume to an lesser headhunter to deal with me. I was already thrilled with how this was playing out; it was confirming pretty much all my experiences with headhunters prior.

The interview was short, and I got handed the card of the young associate as I was leaving with vague instructions to basically do most of the work on my own and they may call me if they stumble onto something. They then piped up, oh yeah and this is the other owner of the headhunter agency, and handed me another business card.

I seriously hope I was able to keep a poker face. As I was already leaving, I didn’t have to hold it too long. The second card I was handed for the other agency owner was a name I definitely DID recognize. Very early on when I moved to this city, I had contacted this woman who was bouncing between a few headhunter agencies. She was exceptionally rude and had basically given me several names of people who would likely be able to make money off of me as a new transplant to the area (realtors, etc) and then basically told me I should just keep applying to jobs because she, and her agency weren’t going to bother helping me. Let’s just say I told her where to stick her great advice and what she could do with her recommendations for other services in the area. My response to her may have involved some invectives, and likely would have been slightly memorable. Once I got back into my car I dismissed the whole thing from my mind, because the likelihood of a headhunter agency of doing anything was nearly nil from my experience; and I was unsure if I should go on any interview they came up with based on the mere possibility that this woman remembered me and had seen my name in the pool of potentials and wanted to just fuck with me because they could.

But as I mentioned, they actually did find an interview for me. So now I was stuck with a quandary. Should I show up to the interview, or play it safe and not go. Well… considering I showed up to the gaming commission interview, I’m always down for a good story. So I went on the interview they found for me.

Interview #36 – The uncertain employer

I am in a rather solid job at the moment; I like who I work with quite a bit. The main issue is that there is significantly more work than can be accomplished yet we are expected to complete the work regardless of the hours and oh yeah… the pay is not great. And each attorney effectively operates 100% autonomously, pretty much with no support. It’s like being a solo attorney in a big firm setting.

So, although I am lucky enough not to be plastering the whole city with my resume, I am cautiously sending out my resume to select employers. Mostly because if I stay at the job I am at now, I don’t think I could ever pay off my student loans.

So using my newfound desirability as an actually trained and experienced attorney, I have sent out a few applications. This particular interview was garnered through networking. I had showed up to a happy hour event where someone had mentioned their caseload and I had laughed and told them my numbers. We worked the same types of cases but I had 4 to almost 5 times as many cases as them. This led to a short discussion wherein they mentioned their firm was looking for someone new. I shot off an email with my resume later that night and got a call back for an interview that same week.

The office was set in a nice glass and steel mid-rise office building. I showed up on time and was ushered into a conference room where the decorator must have been given the request to make as many things white as they could. If you know styles, it probably was exactly minimalist modern continental. To say the office appeared spartan was an understatement, but they appeared to have (some) money so it must have been more by choice (I think).

The firm’s local partner eventually ambled in holding nothing but a coffee cup. I’m still unsure if this was on purpose or if he had lost my resume and didn’t want to ask for a new copy, because it seemed as if he had never bothered reading it at all.

What followed was the least interesting interview I’ve ever had. The partner started off by asking me to tell him about myself.  I do believe that was the first, and damn near last question he asked during the interview. Most of the interview was me asking him questions and then having a little bit of back and forth on them. The partner stated they were looking for an associate but didn’t really seem to have any idea why, or what they would be doing.

It was quite difficult trying to interview for a job when the interviewer seemed so disinterested in interviewing. The interview went on for about an hour. By the end of it, I am pretty sure the partner had figured out he didn’t know what he wanted, or even if he wanted to hire anyone. Thinking back on it, I don’t even think I got a rejection from the firm, just silence. It was not a better position than the one I am in, and it didn’t seem to pay anything decent over my current offering either. It was relatively forgettable, but I made note of the firm so I wouldn’t make the mistake of applying there in the future.

Monuments to Failure

Surfing Craigslist is a monument to the failure of the legal industry. Peruse this posting (click to enlarge photos)… Is it possible this individual got a better position with a real firm? I suppose it is, but I sorta doubt it.

My favorite part of this whole thing is the coat-rack of ties. It just screams failing criminal defense attorney.
















Possibly the worst thing I did…

I was involved with breaking a human being. I think it disturbed me more that I had forgotten this story until recently. In my own defense, there was no way to know what was happening at the time. I think it says more about the profession in general that no one at his firm noticed until it was too late.

I was working on a fatality case. There were big numbers involved based on how the ‘client’ had died. There were also about 6 different corporations being sued. Each of the corporations had hired their own defense firm in one relatively small town. This also meant that the last person to the party got last pick of the defense firms in town, and therefore most likely the better / larger firms had already been hired by the co-defendants.  The last corporation joined in this particular case hired a mid-small defense firm of about a dozen attorneys.

Well, at a certain point in the case, as seemingly with any case with multiple defendants, there came the winnowing. Everyone decided it was time to try to MSJ themselves out. And one by one, the various defendants dropped out. Except one; in particular the last one joined to the case. They didn’t file an MSJ at all.

In fact, it turned out they had not filed a single motion on their own behalf during the entire case. The attorney who had been representing this corp. had gotten his name ‘signed with authorization’ onto all the motions filed by the other corporations’ higher priced firms. When the dust had settled, that one attorney and his client were the only ones left in the suit. Every other co-defendant had taken the opportunity when they filed their MSJ to point their collective finger at the one remaining defendant on their way out the door.

Deadlines were gone, motions had not been adopted by this counsel, his name had been signed on things but nothing of great consequence. In short, he was screwed. The winnowing of defendants also mean that a plaintiff no longer has to use the shotgun method of going after multiple targets. Now we had a single target with a bullseye painted on them courtesy of their co-defendants, and I started sending out our usual ramped up (and trumped up) motions now that we were getting closer to the trial setting.

For those not in the know about shady plaintiff’s work, one of the pre-trial tactics used is to file fast and furious motions. And file lots of them. The more the better; file to strike anyone and anything that supports the other side’s contention. File motions to compel to get the attorneys baby pictures from his mother. File requests for sanctions because you heard a rumor opposing counsel might have possibly have been related to Hitler. It really doesn’t matter what the content is, it is more important that you are sending a lot of them. And make sure to send lots and lots of seemingly levelheaded emails to opposing counsel too… because then you can print them out and attach them to your motions too. Especially when opposing counsel starts sending back emails ranting at you because you are emailing and calling their cell phone constantly (seriously… and a pro-tip for any aspiring attorneys… never, ever ever ever hand out your personal cell phone to another attorney if you can possibly help it).

Well, we started doing just that to Opposing counsel. We realized early on that he was screwed since he had filed no motions during the whole case. Our office was nothing if not efficient at sending these types of crap motions at a breakneck speed.

And then it happened. Opposing counsel replied with 2 motions of his own. They were incomprehensible rantings interspersed with legal argument that wouldn’t be made by a first year law student with a complete lack of knowledge of civil procedure. We immediately set a hearing for our motions at the soonest date possible. I had started to respond to his replies for the hearing. But the hearing never happened.

Two days prior to the hearing, we got a call from one of the partners at this law firm. The partner who had this case had a mental breakdown and was taken by ambulance from his office. He was removed from the firm / partnership. He had been forcibly retired. A partner from the firm  took over and tried their best to salvage what they could from the case. I am quite certain the firm had a fucking ridiculous malpractice case against them after the dust settled, but I never did find out. To my boss’ credit, he reined everything in and told us to stop. The litigation machine was put on hold until they could pick up the pieces of what used to be someone’s life.

In all likelihood if it hadn’t been the case I was working on, it would have just been someone else’s case that pushed this guy over the edge. But it wasn’t. It was me working at the direction of my boss and the firm. And without meaning to, I took part in irreparably breaking another human being. It’s sorta a fucked up feeling to realize that.

Enter the Rainman

The firm had decided they were getting serious about getting rid of some people. And at the top of their list was my boss. For almost the whole time I was working at the firm, we had been operating in the blissful absence of “compliance attorneys”. Prior to my start at the firm, there had apparently been some other compliance attorney who had lasted over a year before pulling the ripcord. But since that guy had left, the firm had chosen not to hire a new one… until now. The firm took on a full time compliance attorney about 3 months before I quit. He was a short, angry little man who looked (and sounded) a bit like Dustin Hoffman if you squinted. The recurring thoughts about Rainman aside, he was a rather poor attorney and seemed to survive by getting angry and hoping it made people uncomfortable enough that they would back down. (In fact, I’ll just continue referring to him as Rainman… it is oddly fitting actually).

Rainman’s angry demeanor didn’t work so well when it came up against my crazy boss. Angry just made him stronger, like the Hulk, or maybe tequila. It didn’t work so well with me either, angry doesn’t really do anything to apathetic. The compliance attorney would yell at me (literally) for something, and my response was usually to sigh, or shrug, or generally ignore him. This in turn actually made him actually angry and he would eventually storm off to his office, no doubt to write angry interoffice messages. The pure inviolable feeling one has when you don’t care if you get fired is truly amazing.

The compliance attorney had been given marching orders to try to get my boss fired. He came to me very early on and specifically told me “they” were trying to fire my boss. The problem was, by this time, I had already turned the corner and now I liked my boss. Hang around someone long enough and you start to see things from their worldview, and his was actually pretty interesting, and in a strange way how he operated made much more sense compared to the rest of the attorneys working there.

Initially I did nothing with the information Rainman told me. But this particular conversation would be the linchpin which ultimately made everything fall apart. (much more on this later)

At some point shortly after the first few interactions with the compliance attorney, the powers that be decided I was not being helpful, so I must be part of the problem. This didn’t help matters because the more Rainman pushed and prodded me, the closer I ended up getting to my boss and those of us working directly with him.

My boss started having very contentious ‘conversations’ with Rainman. Many of these conversations involved Rainman second guessing the litigation maneuvering  we were doing on cases. The problem was, Rainman was a crappy attorney. He had recently moved to the state and had waived into the bar, and had no idea about why certain things could or could not be done because of his poor understanding of the local / state rules. Rainman had come from New Jersey, one of the easiest bars in the country (I can say that with confidence having taken and passed it as an afterthought) and he hadn’t been a litigator there. His advice was uniformly off the mark, but he stated it with the confidence of the truly ignorant and self assured.

At a certain point, my boss got tired of dealing with him. So he didn’t. What do I mean? Well, from my perspective, he just stopped showing up… for a few weeks. The armchair psychitrist in me wants to say this was just part of his manic / depressive cycle; first he’d be there 14 hours a day, then no one would see him for days at a time. But I think he just figured out he didn’t have to deal with the crap if he didn’t show up, and let’s be honest, a lot of what we do as attorneys can now be done anywhere given a laptop and internet connection. During this period there was veritably no communication; at best, I would get cryptic text messages which may or may not be deciphered. I would however get near daily visits from Rainman yelling at me for my boss not being around. Because that is obviously within my power to alter. At this point I would always drop my boss a note saying Rainman was wandering the halls looking for him.

This was punctuated by the amusing game which was being played outside my office as well. Rainman garnered a particular dislike for our paralegal. So when Rainman would ask if my boss was in, the paralegal would make something up just to fuck with Rainman. “Yes, he was just here.” / “Isn’t he in his office?” / “He just walked that way (down the same small hallway Rainman had just come from), I can’t imagine how you missed him.” / “You just missed him, he went to lunch.” It became hilarious. Eventually Rainman knew she was lying, but couldn’t prove her wrong on most occasions. Especially when the boss would do a fly through to show his face to one of two people who would verify he had been in that day. It drove Rainman insane.

Unfortunately, Rainman decided the best way to get to my boss, was to create problems for the people working for him. (more to come)

Work (prior) – The surrogate

I began applying to jobs again.

The final straw was when my boss was adamant that a motion needed to be filed that day (i.e. before midnight) and so I ended up at the office until damn near midnight working on it. My boss looked it over and decided they needed to edit it, because they are a control freak and can’t let any written product be filed without a significant rewrite that ends up looking suspiciously like the original draft I handed them.

Before you think this was some massively important motion or appeal… it wasn’t. As every lawyer knows, there are motions which are nearly rote and you don’t put much effort into them. There are the daily ones which require a bit of research, put in the legal standard and the three part test for whatever, but nothing onerous. Then there are the appeals or big case MSJ type of ones where the whole rest of the case rests on your one writing.

This particular motion was basically a rote one. I had a good serviceable motion. Which Twitchy Mc-A.D.H.D. felt the need to give the gift of their own TLC. (And they were also apparently avoiding their spouse who called and yelled at me… because, you know… I was there and apparently complicit in their personal argument, at which point my boss took the phone from me and hung up on his wife.)

I was stuck waiting while they nervously twitched out edits onto the draft in front of me. For over two hours, and then it went past midnight.

Which means, it didn’t matter that I / we had stayed there so god damned late, because now the filing date was the next day. I could have done all of this the next day and it wouldn’t have mattered. But instead they just shrugged it off and kept revising and then reverting the copy. I finally looked at them and said I was going home, and I left without looking back. I, and the motion, were being used as some sort of surrogate excuse in an ongoing marital problem. Awesome.

I began applying to new jobs right after this.

Return from Vacation

So I’m putting the site back online. It’s been off mainly because I was being cautious. I think I should be good now though. In short, I gtfo from my previous employer. I was already halfway out the door on my last post but I had to make sure at the time I was free and clear from them. Shortly after I quit, so did the attorney I was working for. But when partner level attorneys quit, it becomes messy. In short, they were being forced out and they left the firm taking most of their clients with them, and then a flurry of lawsuits between the firm and the prior partner (which I’m not sure are ever going to be resolved) and I had been given the heads-up I might get roped in and deposed and possibly used as a witness in the inevitable courtroom drama.

I may still, these things take a long time. But I have distanced myself professionally and geographically from all the crazy so I think I don’t care much about what goes on with those people anymore. So I am back to posting my rantings about sub-par work environments and the vagaries of working in this industry.  And I’ve been in an all new job for the past year slowly racking up stories so I should have some decent material to work with.



minor update… I’m going to post a bunch of the stuff from the previous job and then move on to my current job.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….